ATLANTA — Some state and local lawmakers are asking for a federal investigation into the decision to close one of the two Level 1 trauma centers in metro Atlanta.
They believe closing the hospitals could have been a civil rights violation.
Complaints have been filed with the Internal Revenue Service and the civil rights division of the Department of Health and Human Services essentially accusing Wellstar Health Systems of discriminatory practices, saying Wellstar shut down hospitals in predominantly African American areas but leaving hospitals in predominantly white areas open.
At an afternoon news conference, Atlanta lawmaker Kim Schofield could barely contain her anger.
“It’s disgusting. Disrespectful. I’m going to send a message with all my colleagues that it will not be tolerated,” Schofield said.
Wellstar surprised many city and county leaders when it announced it would close Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center, one of only two Level 1 trauma centers in the area at the time. It also closed the East Point Health Center.
Wellstar insisted the hospital was hemorrhaging money and there was no choice but to close it down.
But Fulton County Commission Chair Robb Pitts pointed out that Wellstar, a non-profit corporation, left north suburban hospitals open.
- ‘We are ready’: Local clinic seeing increase in patients after closing of Atlanta Medical Center
- One of Atlanta’s top hospitals, Atlanta Medical Center closes its doors for good
- With Atlanta Medical Center closing, what’s next for patient care in Fulton County?
- Mayor says Atlanta Medical Center can’t be repurposed after closure
- DeKalb CEO asks for $20M to offset impact of Atlanta Medical Center closure
He compared it to real estate redlining in the past.
“Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to tell you today that what we’re talking about is no more and no less than healthcare redlining,” Pitts said.
The lawmakers are asking that HHS open an investigation into why Wellstar closed the two hospitals and that the IRS review Wellstar’s nonprofit status.
“We feel that there’s grave possibilities that Wellstar hospital system has failed to comply with the requirements to maintain their 501(c)(3) status,” state Sen. Nan Orrock said.
Channel 2′s Richard Elliot reached out to Wellstar on Wednesday for reaction. They said they were aware of this news conference, the accusations and the official filings with the federal government.
Wellstar Medical released a statement Wednesday night:
“While we have not seen the complaint, the suggestion that Wellstar Health System in any way discriminated against patients and communities is outrageous and false. In fact, we are the largest provider of charity care in the state of Georgia and among the top 10 providers nationwide, bringing expert, compassionate health services to those who need us most.
Since February 2020, when Wellstar publicly announced a formal search for a partner or buyer to find a sustainable path forward, we have been open, honest and transparent about the challenges we faced. They were multi-faceted and included the age of AMC’s buildings, the fact that utilization was less than half of the bed capacity and a lack of public and private support. We connected with healthcare organizations locally, regionally and across the country. Potential partners expressed interest, but ultimately none were interested. None of these facts were presented or discussed in today’s press conference.
We are focused and committed to continue serving diverse communities throughout the region and providing them the specialized programs and resources they need.”
©2023 Cox Media Group